Meal Top (밀탑), Seoul, South Korea

Category: Korean – Desserts – Bingsu (Ice shavings)

So apparently the Koreans are crazy about their bingsu, a dessert made from ice shavings, and topped with fruits or red bean, etc. (there being many renditions). Meal Top (밀탑) is one of the more famous ones and comes very highly rated at 4.5/5 on Tripadvisor, and is particularly famous for the ones with red bean topping.

165, Apgujeong-ro, Hyundai Department Store 5F, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 압구정로 165 (압구정동)

The Hyundai Department Store is right at Apgujeong metro station, and taking the escalators up to the fifth floor, you’ll be delivered right to the doorstep of Meal Top. You’ll hear it before you even see it – the clatter of cutlery and dishes and a busy chatter comes as a bit of a surprise as you navigate the escalators up past floors 3 and 4 which are full of luxury label shops and also extremely quiet.

Damage: $-$$

Each bingsu is about 8,000 KRW (~$10), which I find mighty expensive for something that comprises largely of shaved ice. Bingsu in Korea is pretty much one of the best ways to blow your money in a wink because they’re all about $10 (the cheapest one I came across was about $9). I had bingsu at 4 places around Seoul and Busan while I was there, and not once ever really left the shop feeling like it was worth the money. Nonetheless, it is a very Korean dessert, so you should probably try it at least once.

To Go: Maybe once (whether here or elsewhere, it doesn’t really matter)

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the profit margin on the bingsu is probably somewhere close to 90%, before the utilities and wages of course. The red bean, whilst wholesome and generous, could not divorce from the fact that it was still just a red bean paste, simply dolloped on top of shaved ice drizzled over with some condensed milk. The dessert was simple, good and tasty, especially if you’re having it on a warm day, but the thing that I found most spectacular, was oddly nothing to do with the dessert at all.

The service was impeccable from start to finish. Meal Top is an open-concept cafe, and the moment I stepped in from the ‘wrong’ side, the manager immediately spotted me, graciously ushered me to the seating area on the other side and pulled a waiting number from the machine for me. It was running at full house and there were several people ahead of us in the queue, but the wait wasn’t long. I watched, fascinated, as waiters transported trays of dessert barely 2 minutes after it was ordered, and as they swooped in on tables the moment guests departed, readying it within seconds for the next guests to be seated.

Meal Top bingsu dessert Seoul South Korea Food Review Travel Diary Blog

Bongeunsa Temple, Seoul, South Korea (Gallery)

I’ve just returned from Spring in South Korea – a great time to go, with gorgeous and breathtaking scenes of Cherry blossom trees. On my first day in Seoul, I set up basecamp at a hotel in Gangnam-gu. Gangnam is a beautiful trendy district (made famous by Psy’s “Gangnam style” song) with lots of cafes and indie label shops, and lies to the south of the Han river, which winds horizonatally across the city. It is an area obviously loved by the teens to 20 somethings, but probably not so much the elderly because I hardly saw them hanging about.

Bongeunsa Temple lies in the eastern part of Gangnam-gu, just north of the sprawling COEX mall, and is an unexpected sight amidst tall buildings decked in glass. Near the entrance to Bongeunsa, street beggars sat or walked up to visitors waiting to cross the road at the traffic lights, holding their hands together with dark crinkles of toil etched into their tanned skin. Inside, there was a sense of quiet calm – especially in the gardens. I drifted from one building to another, drawn by the beautiful green and red-brown coloured paints incorporated into a simple but seemingly complex design and the neatly tiled roofs of slategray. Rows of brightly coloured paper lanterns folded into lotus flowers were strung across the ceiling of the main prayer building, and I watched silently as a lady unclasped her hands and lifted a flame to light a candle at the altar.

531, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 봉은사로 531 (삼성동)

Open all year round; There is also a 2-day temple stay activity should you wish to participate. Alternatively, there is also a 3hr programme where you can experience participating in different temple activities.

Bongeunsa Temple Seoul South Korea Things to See Travel Diary Blog

Bongeunsa Temple Seoul South Korea Things to See Travel Diary Blog

Bongeunsa Temple Seoul South Korea Things to See Travel Diary Blog

Bongeunsa Temple Seoul South Korea Things to See Travel Diary Blog

Travel Diary: Shiroi Koibito Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan, 〒063-0052 北海道札幌市西区宮の沢2条2丁目11−36; Tel +81 11-666-1481

We followed the smiles and waves of the park guides in neatly ironed white uniforms and rounded the bend into the basement carpark before disembarking for Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It was funny how I’d known about the Shiroi Koibito biscuit before I knew anything else about Hokkaido – it seemed to be the ultimate souvenir that friends would bring back from Hokkaido, and with good reason, considering that ever since I’d tasted it, I couldn’t stop craving the light thin biscuit with a skinny block of white chocolate wedged between.

The lift opened into the main store, and straight away I felt like I’d stepped into a fantasyland of sorts, with (what I now recognised to be a distinctly Japanese touch) tinkling music and chocolate and candies in colourful wrappers everywhere, including giant standing lollipop decorations. A grand-ish staircase descended from the second floor on the right, and straight ahead, stood a ferris wheel around which children had gathered, slotting coins and taking turns to hit a button which would spin the wheel and drop a piece of candy from the lowest bucket when it stopped.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary

Once outside, the Shiroi Koibito Park reminded me of disneyland with its castle-like exteriors and gardens full of the most colourful flowers and little water features, including cherubic sculptures peering out from random places.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel DiaryWe stepped into the shade of the building to commence our tour of the Shiroi Koibito Park, and were each handed the awesome biscuit at the entrance. I’m not a huge facts junkie, so the details of the making of the biscuit wasn’t all that fascinating to me, except when the trail opened up and ran by the actual production line. I stood for a good while watching the Shiroi Koibito biscuit get pushed out from the machine, sandwiched together, sorted, and packaged, all within a few meters. I couldn’t help but focus on the workers picking out imperfect Shiroi Koibito biscuits near the end of the line, wondering what they did with the rejected biscuits- and daydreamed about them giving it all to me.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Factory Production LineThe Shiroi Koibito Cafe stood at the end of the tour – it’s the only place where you can have the Shiroi Koibito White Hot Chocolate Drink and the Shiroi Koibito White Chocolate Ice-cream. I sat down excitedly and immediately decided that the dilemma was non-existent and that I was going to have both 😛

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary White Hot Chocolate and White Chocolate Ice-CreamOh god. It was so good – the ice-cream was so creamy, milky, soft, and just melted away in the mouth. The White Hot Chocolate was good too, and was something my cousin had been raving on and on about in anticipation throughout the trip. I thought it was really delicious, but the good news is, when I tasted it, I immediately pinpointed a “dupe” in my favourite Luxury White Hot Chocolate from Whittard’s in London, which means that for everyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit Shiroi Koibito Park, you essentially get a taste of Japan if you can get yourself some Whittard‘s.

Otaru Market, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

We made a stop by Otaru’s wet market in the late morning to check out their range of fresh seafood. Being a seaside town, Otaru’s streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling seafood in various forms – from live to dried to fresh cuts served with don. Otaru’s wet market was smaller than Kushiro’s Washo market but better, with fresher seafood and great value. The stall owners are a lot kinder as well, perhaps due to lesser competition, and even took the time to explain the different catches and fantastic sea creatures.

I walked down the length of the market armed with my DSLR, trying my best to capture as much of the colour as possible. One of the shopkeepers saw me pointing and commenting on the giant crabs in my video, and without hesitation, lifted the entire crab out of the tank and said, “Yes it is hu-ge!” Haha! – often it’s really the locals that really make the place even more memorable. He gave me a pinch of uni to taste before we eventually sat down to enjoy a Major seafood meal.

Right- enough of my talking. I’m going to hit you with the pictures 😛

Otaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary King CrabOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary BlogOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Ikura Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Western/Tuscan – Steakhouse

I’d heard many good things about Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse and had been meaning to go for some time. When we arranged to have dinner, I was having a steak craving and since my companion was indifferent to the various dining options I provided, we agreed that it would be a good time to give Bistecca a try.

25 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 238969, Tel: 6735 6739, Opens 12 – 2pm and 6 – 10pm

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse is among the row of shophouses next to the Temple on the main road. Most people visiting the area would park at UE Square, from which you could cut through UE or walk along Unity Road and then make a right down Mohamed Sultan Road. The restaurant will be opposite with a steep flight of steps leading to a dimly lit rustic setting with a retractable deep red outdoor shade above the entrance with the words “Bistecca”.

Damage: $$$-$$$$

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse is more of an occasions kind of place. The prices are steep, but the food is lovely and service is great. If you’re going to shell out for a steak at Bistecca (and if you didn’t go alone), I suggest the Fiorentina steak ($188) – it’s the best steak I’ve tasted in Singapore thus far, and I’ve been on the hunt for the best for a while now. I might just say it’s better than Cut by Wolfgang Puck, and for a comparable price point, is on par with Wooloomooloo Steakhouse (although a direct comparison can’t be drawn since they were different cuts) and trumps Bedrock Bar & Grill.

To go: Yes, whenever the occasion calls for steak

As long as you have a team of 2 or 3, take to Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse for the Fiorentina. Good service, fantastic steak – I’ve not had a meatier, juicier, more perfectly done steak elsewhere. The 2 of us could barely finish the Fiorentina and were majorly stuffed, so if your team is a group of eaters with moderately-sized appetites, you should do just nicely. Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse Singapore Fiorentina Best Steak Bedrock Wooloomooloo

The steak is a organic-fed wagyu-cross which is dry aged. It is then grilled over a wood-fire grill which intensifies the flavour with a slightly smoky touch. On medium, the steak was tender and still a deep pinkish red on the inside, perfectly seared on the outside without crusting, and the juices flowed out readily with each slice. Steak is challenging to photograph, and the dimly lighted interiors didn’t help my mission, so go- see (and taste) for yourself. The side dishes were good too, although quite pricey. For dessert, we had a Panna Cotta which was soft and creamy, but you could probably find similar desserts elsewhere.

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse Singapore Fiorentina Best Steak Bedrock Wooloomooloo dessert panna cotta

Daijinmon (大仁門), Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Barbecue

Daijinmon is the most highly-recommended Japanese barbecue place and is touted as the best one in Otaru on Tripadvisor. If a sushi/sashimi-overdose was possible, it certainly happened during the trip, and so we decided to have barbecue instead. Daijinmon has an incredible wait if you don’t place a reservation, and since we happened to be strolling in the area in the mid afternoon and spotted it within radius of our Google Maps, my cousin and I went ahead to scout it out while our family rested their feet from an entire morning of walking about and waited for us in the shade by the Otaru canal (小樽運河).

1-13-5 Ironai, Otaru 047-0031, Hokkaido, Tel: +81 134-23-2876

It seems to me that Daijinmon only has branches in Otaru. I’m Japanese-illiterate, so if you do visit their website and discover otherwise, please let me know so I can share this with everyone 🙂 It was easy to find with GPS since Google Map pins it in the right place. The signs outside are an easy spot- with mouthwatering pictures yelling about the juicy goodness of fine cuts being licked by a charcoal heat.

Damage: $$

Unbelievable is all I can say. If we’d had the same thing back home in Singapore, it would’ve easily costed us 4 to 5-fold more. We had slices of wagyu, beef slices of every cut, fine cuts of kurobuta pork, vegetables for the grill… everything, and it summed up only about $35 each.

To go: YES PLEASE!!

Are you kidding? If I were in Otaru, I’d go back multiple times a week! The place is comfortable, clean, has friendly service staff with a great service attitude, delicious cuts of quality meats with the tastiest sauces.

Daijinmon 大仁門 Best Beef Wagyu Meat Barbeque Barbecue Otaru Hokkaido Japan Food Review Travel Blog


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Daijinmon was further away that it’d appeared on Google Maps. We navigated the neat grid-like roads of Otaru under the gaze of the afternoon sun, taking a left 3 junctions down into a side street, and by the time we were on the right street we were melting. The clean wooden facade of Daijinmon was immediately visible, and we loitered around outside waiting for Daijinmon to open again at 3.45pm so we could place our reservation. I was poking my foot around in the gravel to distract myself from the heat when the sliding door suddenly activated and a tall, slightly awkward girl came out, pulled a chair to the side of the entrance, and looked at us curiously.

Re-ser-va-tion?, I said, and drew with my fingers some imaginary notepad on which I took an imaginary note, and then pointed at my watch whilst saying eight peo-ple at eight o’clock, while my cousin lifted up fingers to show number 8. She gave a confused look, and quickly ducked back inside. We looked at each other and shrugged, not knowing if she’d gotten our meaning. After a while she came back out, and we asked her again about the booking. O-K, she said, O-K. It seemed she didn’t need our name or any contact, but perhaps that could be because they didn’t see many foreign chinese people in their restaurant? Either way, when our entire convoy arrived at 8pm that night, we were ushered inside and upstairs without a moments hesitation.

On the second floor, we left our shoes in a shoe rack and stepped onto the raised deck which was flanked by private rooms with wooden sliding doors on the left and right, walls fitted with ricepaper. It was cozy, with lots of dark wooden furnishing, and cushions on which guests could seat themselves around the table and grill. The menu was extensive but entirely in Japanese, so we did a fair amount of pointing, gesturing and attempted to get our point across in sl-ow hal-ting english, which seemed to work quite well. We ended up with a feast to behold, and we’ve fondly remembered that meal ever since. One of the best Japanese barbecues I’ve ever had, at a standard comparable to Gyu Kaku here (or maybe even better), and at an incredible price. This is just one of the many reasons I need to find my way back to Japan- and perhaps you should to, too.

Daijinmon 大仁門 Best Beef Wagyu Meat Barbeque Barbecue Otaru Hokkaido Japan Food Review Travel Blog

Let’s explore: The little town of Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

Otaru has become a special memory for me. The tinkling music in LeTAO and the Orgel Museum transported me into a Disneyland of sorts, while the abundance of food places along the street and souvenir shops kept it real by singing with wonderful aromas and displays of kawaii toys, telling me that indeed, “This is Japan”.

I managed to capture some of my experiences in this charming town of Otaru, so come along and take a walk in the town with me!